- Vanessa Durrant
Positive Parenting for the Child who is Struggling
Positive Parenting for the Child Who is Struggling
By Vanessa Durrant, MSW, LCSW-C, RMT
Parenthood—it’s special, sacred, and a journey for sure! One moment you are on your biggest high from having the most tender moment with your child and the next you are on your lowest low, wondering if being a parent is really for you. As a parent myself, I know those highs and lows. Things can feel particularly challenging when you are finding it hard to parent a child who may be struggling. There are many parenting strategies out there and it can be overwhelming to choose strategies that are right for your family.
Yet, one of the most important things in raising children is to parent according to your child's needs. Research has proven time and time again, that children are happiest when they feel understood. As humans, we all have needs that we need to be met in order to feel our best and most productive selves. The same applies to children. Positive parenting is one such approach that can help us support our children in times of need. As the name suggests, positive parenting aims at facilitating the positive to combat the negative. It's an approach that you embody where you recognize the best in your child in order to help their growth and development. So when your child is struggling by way of fits, angry words, or grumpy moods, you are able to separate those moments as moments, and not your child being a "bad child." Instead, it is your child communicating that they are not ok and a positive connection can help you help them.
Thus, when you need to correct your child for their negative behavior, like hitting or saying hurtful things, you can enact discipline. A positive parent disciplines, they do not punish. There is a big difference between punishing behavior and disciplining. Positive discipline teaches and guides a child into learning from their mistakes and wrong doings. Punishment is based on enacting control and retribution for a child's bad behavior. For example, your child just hit their brother, and you are upset and believe he must be punished for this, so you tell them that they can't play on the iPad for the rest of the week. You know they enjoy their iPad time and so you get back at them where you know it hurts, by taking it away for a week. In your mind, now he knows he can't go around hitting others when he's upset. But if you stop and pause, has he actually learned that it's not okay to hit? And how that hurts another's body and feelings? And if he is upset at them, how to communicate that in a better way instead? No, they haven’t learned these essential life skills. Instead, they know that hitting their brother means something will be taken away. And most likely you will have other similar misbehaviors come up that will warrant more punishment, and you are stuck in a cycle of taking things away and before you know it, you are so disconnected from one another that you don't know what else to do to get them to behave better.
Punishment can also instill fear in a child and that is a slippery slope when, in reality, you just want them to learn to do better. In fact, research on moral development actually found that children who feared punishment tended to have less guilt, were less willing to accept responsibility, were less resistant to temptation and had fewer internal controls than children who were not punished. A reason for this is because punishment is all about the parent having control over a child and their behavior, rather than helping your child develop control over their own behavior. And that's exactly what positive discipline aims to do. Some people think that positive discipline means you are permissive when a child does things like hitting a sibling. But the opposite is true. In the situation above, a positive parent would step in and through positive language communicate that hitting is unacceptable. One way to do this is,"Hey, we only use kind touches in our family. We won't hit others when we're angry. Let's figure out what's wrong together." This will allow your child to know what is expected of him—kind touches, not hitting. Furthermore, it will allow time to problem solve with them regarding what made them so upset that they felt they had to hit in order to communicate those feelings. After they are calm and this can be done, you would reinforce kindness by asking your child to do something that is kind for his brother who he hit. In all of this, your child is learning many skills to develop successfully into an adult. They are learning about feelings, communication, coping, empathy, and kindness. Most importantly, they are learning that with your support, they can correct their mistakes and count on you for help.
With practice and consistency, you will find that misbehaviors lessen, because you are more in tune with your child, and they know they can come to you when they are beginning to struggle. There are endless ways to employ positive parenting and positive discipline, so it can feel overwhelming at first. Below are my top four recommendations to begin embodying a positive parenting perspective:
1) Replace time-outs with time-ins
Instead of sending your child to their room when they are very upset or have done something wrong, stay close to them, let them know you are there for them, and when they feel calmer, you can figure out a way to feel better and do better. You can hold them on your lap as they cry and let their sadness out, or if they are aversive to comfort, place yourself on the floor, and slowly watch as you inch closer to each other, and be ready for that big hug where they can feel that you really will figure it out together.
2) Reframe your words
Our brains shut down when we hear negative commands. Instead, use positive words in a kind and firm way that provide more direction. Instead of saying, "No running," say "Walking feet please." Instead of, "You never put your toys away. Go do it now!" say "It's time to put things away. Can you place those in that box right there?"
3) Celebrate your child
When you see them exercising positive behavior, praise them. It is best to focus praise based on what your child does, "Wow, you worked hard to figure this out," than on traits they can’t change, "You are so smart."
4) Connect and understand
Work to connect and understand your child's feelings. Ask about feelings, listen, empathize, normalize and validate what they say. This helps them feel understood, "Oh, you had a bad day today because you felt sad at recess because you didn't have friends to play with. I'm so sorry. I would feel sad, too."
**This article was featured as a front page article in the Oct./Nov. 2016 issue of Frederick's Child**
Vanessa Durrant is a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Kindred Tree Healing Center where she helps children, parents, and adults heal and grow into the best version of themselves.